Kentucky capital a hard hat destination with plenty to do

FRANKFORT, Ky. — “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

Not really — it only feels that way because so many buildings on Frankfort’s, horizon have come down and are going up. But even with implosions, dust clouds and a shifting skyline, Kentucky’s capital city remains open for business, its downtown straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and its attractions wide-ranging and lively.

Grab your hard hat, head to this town stretched out along the Kentucky River and see what Henny Penny surely will miss.

Credit: Gene Burch/Visit Frankfort

Credit: Gene Burch/Visit Frankfort

— Capital good times

After months of demolition, the skies above downtown Frankfort have cleared. Gone are the 28-story Capital Plaza Tower, once the city’s tallest building, Frankfort Convention Center, Fountain Place Shops, and two parking garages. Taking their place will be a modern Capital Plaza with shiny new buildings.

The last man standing, so to speak, is the Capital Plaza Hotel (, a welcoming refuge for visitors exploring a city in the throes of redevelopment. And it has free parking and Wi-Fi, to boot. Not to mention comfy and larger-than-average rooms, indoor pool, hot breakfast bar and a bar/lounge serving local Kentucky bourbons among other libations and Southern specialties including the Hot Brown and Fried Green Tomato Sliders.

— Speaking of bourbon

The hotel puts visitors in easy drive distance to Buffalo Trace (, a National Historic Landmark and the world's most award-winning distillery, oldest continually (legally) operating distillery in the country and one of only four distilleries allowed to remain open during Prohibition. Someone had to dispense the "medicine."

In keeping with Frankfort’s current theme, the distillery offers a Hard Hat Tour for a true insider’s look behind the curtain to see the heart and soul of the bourbon crafting process — and not just any bourbon mind you, but truly great bourbon, which is Buffalo Trace’s stock-in-trade. This is the home of such fabled bourbons as Pappy Van Winkle, Blanton’s Single Barrel and Stagg Jr., among other liquid legends.

Visitors see everything from grain delivery to the cooking process to fermentation and distillation. A stop is made at the E.H. Taylor, Jr. Microstill where Buffalo Trace crafts its unique and award-winning Experimental Collection whiskies. At tour’s end? The reason visitors take the tour in the first place: tasting the bourbon … Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, White Dog — even delicious chocolate-enrobed bourbon balls.

All Buffalo Trace distillery tours, including the Hard Hat Tour, are complimentary. Tours fill up fast, so reservations are required.

— Please “do” touch, pat, climb on, lounge in

At the Josephine Sculpture Park (, visitors of all ages and abilities are free to interact with about 50 works of art, from dawn until dusk, seven days a week. The 20-acre outdoor art museum was designed to provide creative experiences and free community arts education and do so while also conserving the native Kentucky landscape.

“We work to provide opportunities for artists to create and exhibit art and for the public to experience the creative process,” said park founder and artist Melanie VanHouten, a former university professor who grew up on the land. “Every piece here is okay to touch, and several pieces are large enough and designed to be climbed on.”

Named for VanHouten’s grandmother, the free-admission sculpture park is also a wildlife habitat. The rotating exhibit of contemporary art sits amidst a rural meadowland given shape, dimension and color by a profusion of native trees, bushes and wildflowers. Sculptures and murals are accessible by mowed paths.

Throughout the year, the park hosts workshops, classes and programs, including the annual SoundScape! This year, the free, family-friendly music event takes place 6 p.m. to midnight on Sat., June 9.

A fun way to explore the park in the dark, SoundScape! features back-to-back bands performing on stage, food and beer trucks, ice cream and the Josephine S’mores Bar, a bonfire, night sky tour with telescopes, illuminated sculptures, Silly Sculpture Makin’ Station and more.

Credit: Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Tours

Credit: Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Tours

— Rock the river

Rockin' Thunder Jet Boat Rides ( offers the only jet boat tours on the Ohio and Kentucky Rivers, with several different thrill rides departing from Frankfort, including a new Sunday Dinner Adventure. Bounce downriver through two historic locks to Blue Wing Landing for a catered dinner at an 1850s Greek Revival-style home. These 600 tranquil acres once sheltered the summer home of Kentucky's first U.S. senator, John Brown (1757-1837), who was also the last living member of the Continental Congress.

Rockin’ Thunder also offers a two-for-one adventure with Frankfort’s circa 1796 Liberty Hall Historic Site. Guests tour twin architectural treasures Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House (the former John Brown’s home; the latter built for Brown’s son, Orlando), enjoy a gourmet picnic lunch and then board the boat to rock out for a scenic 40-mile jaunt through Lock 4 on the Kentucky River.

And because this is “Rockin’ Thunder” and not your granddad’s Sunday afternoon sightseeing excursion, there is fishtailing, spinning and sliding — all accompanied by water spraying in from the river and piped-in tunes. Fear not: Your Coast Guard-licensed captain has everything under control.

— Eclectic art walk

If you miss exploring Liberty Hall Historic Site on the jet boat tour, you can still see it on the Frankfort Public Art Cell Phone Tour ( This 20-stop stroll shows off what the wrecking ball has spared, including centuries-old sites like the Greek Revival-style Old State Capitol, built in 1793/94, the only pro-Union state capitol to be occupied by the Confederates during the Civil War. Of more recent vintage is the 1910 Prairie-style Zeigler House with art glass windows — Kentucky's lone (and beloved) Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structure.

Other sites on the tour feature exquisite stained-glass windows; traffic-stopping sculptures abstractly interpreting transportation themes; the Kentucky Floral Clock with its 10,000 colorful blooms; the Daniel Boone Monument; and the utterly charming RJ Corman Children’s Mural spanning a 350-foot-long bridge.


(Author and travel and lifestyle writer Kathy Witt feels you should never get to the end of your bucket list; there's just too much to see and do in the world. Contact her at, @KathyWitt.)


For more information, visit See for the schedule of adventures departing Frankfort.

About the Author